Friday, November 23, 2012

Clashing civilizations

Last week saw a battle between Israel and Hamas. At the surface level, the conflict was about deterrence, Hamas had to be convinced it lacked the power to shower rockets on Israel. 

At a deeper level, the roots of conflict are civilizational- Judaism and Islamist Hamas have incompatible claims to one and the same territory. These opposing claims emanate from two competing narratives of God’s Creation, both of which constitute their civilization's sense of legitimacy and its law. 

In both cases, to be legitimate, National sovereignty must be an extension of Nature created by God. The Created world has a law for every one of its parts, for the most remote galaxies, the Solar system and for Earth. Man is no exception to this general rule, as another part of Creation occupying space on Earth we too must act in accord with His law that controls all aspects of Creation.

For Islamists, the proper method for extending law to man is Islamism. Each and every man must live as a citizen in a world wide Caliphate- under Muslim sovereignty. This world wide Caliphate may begin in areas of Muslim power, ie where the "prophet" Muhammed first dwelled. But this merely a practical issue, from the initial staging ground the Caliphate is meant to extend outward to mankind generally.

 As a Non Muslim State within the immediate bounds of sacred territory dwelled in by Mohammed, the existence of Israel is a desecration of scripture, the height of affront to nature. The Islamists interpretation of religion demands that the territory currently under Israeli illegitimate occupation be made part of the emerging  Muslim Caliphate. The rocket attacks staged by Hamas are a stage in the larger campaign to liberate the land and establish the full Caliphate through Holy war of Jihad.

For Jews, sovereignty is also a matter of extending law into the domain of man, this extension is also to be done by scripture. It is in precisely this light that the restoration of Jewish Sovereignty in the territory of Israel is a fulfillment of scripture. Abraham received a covenant from Hashem that the Jewish people would inherit this land. The return of Jewish sovereignty is a redemption of the land, the end of a forced expulsion from our natural home. In the words of Israel’s declaration of independence:

The Land of Israel, was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.

After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.

Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. In recent decades they returned in their masses. Pioneers, ma'pilim (Hebrew) - immigrants coming to Eretz-Israel in defiance of restrictive legislation] and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country's inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.

While this particular clash with Hamas is getting headlines and dominates conversation, in principle there is nothing new about it- Hamas is but the current opponent in a historic process. The Jewish nation was founded upon a core underlying dialectic about the nature of man’s place in the world, the legitimate way to extend natural law into the political arena and its laws for citizens. This dialectic Judaism brings into mankind is the basis of redemption and is the central thread of the Torah story. 

We will deal with this central thread of the Storyline of redemption in the next post. It is in the context of exploring the dialectic about extending the concept of natural law into terms applicable to legitimacy in sovereignty and law that we will move toward an answer to the original question. How does one preoccupied with material security afforded by Goel Yisrael ever come to recognize the Creator of Shamayim V'aretz.


Hagyan said...

RS, you write: "The Jewish nation was founded upon a core underlying dialectic about ... the legitimate way to extend natural law into the political arena and its laws for citizens. ..."

"Extending natural law into the political arena" seems to me to be the principal theme of your thinking. For example, you wrote last week (in this comment):

Yet, there is an important sense in which the scientific community sees building a reactor in a totally different light, in a sense of "redemption" and "Simcha" that cannot be shared with the public at large.

With respect to 'things', your vision implies that one could constructively produce a mathematical physicist who desires to perceive his mind (in the expansive sense) as governed by a law which, to him, resembles natural laws he has already grasped.

I have grasped a few natural laws. I know the desire to grasp the law which, grasped, ameliorates the painful causal anomalousness of a set of phenomena. Reflecting upon the the the event-space of my consciousness (the phenomena-which-are-me), it appears to me that, were I to find a 'natural order' there, all of my scientific knowings and desirings would, in a single moment, be forever extirpated. I can't conceive any end I would be more averse by my nature to attempt.

Such a "ראשית צמיחת גאולתנו" I would decline.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said...


What I mean is pointed to by the sense of problem the mathematical physicist has with the very experience of becoming aware of law, the very presence of intelligibility of Universe expressed in the presence of the laws of the Universe.

This sense of problem is well articulated in an article you sent me "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences".

Here is a snippet that for me, captures the scientists sense of wonder at the very phenomenon of intelligibility:

Most of what will be said on these questions will not be new; it has probably occurred to most scientists in one form or another. My principal aim is to illuminate it from several sides. The first point is that the enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and that there is no rational explanation for it. Second, it is just this uncanny usefulness of mathematical concepts that raises the question of the uniqueness of our physical theories.

There are some,like Einstein, who approach this confusion about the intelligibility of the Universe with the sense of a superior "mind" pointed to by our experience of redemption from mere sensory data to awareness of intellecting concepts or laws found realized in the universe.

Hagyan said...

RS, please reconsider the makom at which I began the substantive portion of my comment:


With respect to 'things', your vision implies that one could constructively produce a mathematical physicist who desires to perceive his mind (in the expansive sense) as governed by a law which, to him, resembles natural laws he has already grasped. [emphasis added]


With this I indicated a logical refinement of the term 'natural law'. Not being students of the Rambam, Wigner and Einstein missed this step, and it is the political, rather than the scientific, consequences of that misstep that pertain here.

(In the e-mail in which I mentioned Wigner I indicated the same issue by halakhic means.)

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said...

The mistake you refer to in Physicists, seems to be the limited sense of Yichudo Rambam attributes to Enosh in Hilchot AZ.

Hagyan said...

RS: "... seems ..."

This will be one of my weirdo Gedankenexperimenten.

Conviction is the precondition of action. So conviction is the principal determinant of our political choices. In the best case, one's political allegiance should be an "organic" human response to leadership-acts which, in actuality, fully "enact" yichudo.

Consider a conviction scale that runs from 0-9:

0 = Hagyan, nebech, has ingested a few too many psychedelic mushrooms, and I can definitively refute him.
9 = No matter what anyone else says, I personally assert that Hagyan definitely has the mitsva of yichudo.

Would I be correct that your conviction is markedly less than 9? If so, let's denote your conviction-magnitude by '{C<<9}'. What post-Enosh political phenomena do you see as caused by {C<<9} in the citizenries?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said...

I always enjoy Gedanken.

Perhaps if you stated the experiment in simpler terms I could respond to this one.

kenbot said...

I'd like to define a couple terms.

redemption is what we call the move from a state of oppression to a state of freedom.

extension of natural law is when humans, based on observation of themselves, the world, and their relationship to it, induce rules for themselves to live by. These new rules are themselves natural laws in the sense that they are the natural product of the mind conceptualizing the world.

Is that right?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said...


I agree with your sense of "redemption" and "natural law".

The terms are related. "Oppression" arises from a lack of leadership, an inability on the part of the Ohavei Hashem to communicate their love of intelligibility of Chochmas Hashem to the people, redeeming them from their natural attraction to a worldview of popular fantasy.

This redemptive communication is the first order of responsibility of the leadership as Keriat Shema indicates. The Ohev's communication enables Kabbalas Ole Malchus Shamayim, an understanding of intelligible dvarim, laws in application to man as our mind sees them, which allows for the redemption of citizens minds from control by a world view founded in popular fantasy.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said...

ד שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָֹה אֶחָד:
ה וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל-מְאֹדֶךָ:
ו וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם עַל-לְבָבֶךָ:
ז וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ:

NR said...

I wonder about the legitimacy of the assertion: "National sovereignty must be an extension of Nature created by God." Natural law seems very different from Divine law which legislates man's life. While natural law is a fixed nomos, man is not an object which is fixed in his nature. As such our Law must always be interpreted anew and reapplied in every generation. Yes, God promised Bnei Yisrael a land, but that legitimacy of claim comes from an interpretation/encounter with the Word of God as expressed in Divrei Torah, Neviim and Torah Shbaal Peh.

There is a kinship between the nomoi, but I think it is high-time we started to ponder the difference between Natural Law and the Law of the Torah. I believe it is time to abandon the equivalence (so propounded by the Qabalists) between the Nomos of Torah (which is מישב דעתו של אדם--דברים קטנים) and the Nomos of B'riat Shomayim VaAretz (דברים גדולים).

Yehuda said...

That NR comment was left by Yehuda.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said...


There are certainly important differences in the sense of "d'varim" as used in dvarim-ketanim vs d'varim gedolim. Yet, as you say, I emphasize the similarity.

The reason for this emphasis on the area of similarity of these distinct groups of d'varim is the natural predisposition of man to misunderstand bechira, our power to determine whether human or animal natures will be expressed in a given "self".

This misunderstanding of the power of self determination is politically enshrined in the so called right to pursue happiness.

Implicit in this "right to pursue happiness" is the clear implication that our bechira is an act of will, rather than informed judgement.As an act of will, pursuit of happiness has no need for an educational license. There is no sense of Mussar and Talmud Torah requirements for bechira, any man however ignorant, is said to be validly applying his right to pursue happiness.

This bias toward a bechira of ignorance is particularly obvious if we compare it with areas in which we accept the idea informed judgement which clearly presuppose educational licenses.

Do we say any citizen has the right to pursue the prognosis of disease of his first intuition? Surely only the licensed doctor has the legal right to make such judgements? The citizen who ignorantly gives prognosis will be prosecuted and put in prison.

It is this blind attachment to bechira of ignorance that I am highlighting in pointing out the discovery of law dimension of human life.

The first step to healing is the Ikkar Hagadol shehakol Talui bo, to recognize that Chochmas Hashem applies to ALL aspects of His creation, Angel, the great material constellations and Man's pursuit of happiness also included.

The pursuit of happiness rests on discovery of d'varim of some kind, not on applying our first intuitions to living life.

Yehuda said...

Precisely--however, aren't the d'varim we are supposed to be trying to apply d'varim k'tanim, which are akin to, not the same as, d'varim g'dolim? The cyclical nature of peirush (as you have emphasized in many places) is quite different from the scientific endeavor of understanding d'varim g'dolim. I don't think this distinction leads to a confusion about man's "right to pursue happiness."

My point is that it is important to meditate on the difference of Chochmato applied to the aspect of creation which is man. Treating d'varim k'tanim like d'varim g'dolim makes halakhic practice an exercise in futility bound to frustrate not enlighten and מישב דעתו. I think of Aristotle's point at the beginning of the Ethics.

We don't "discover" the d'varim k'tanim in the same way we discover the d'varim g'dolim. The d'varim k'tanim are known through speech (as mediated in a text).

I guess I'm am not as worried about the bechira mistake since the very act of taking up d'varim k'tanim implies an embedded-ness in a mesorah of d'varim.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said...


It is critical that there be a sense of a unified causal Chochmaso, evident in all of Creation, including the "real world' the human environment in which we cooperate with our friends and the larger community to jointly seek our happiness.

This sense of Mada- a unified Chochma at the causal basis of all things from angel and constellation to man and his political State, is the only thing that can shake us from the arrogant fantasy of the "right to pursue happiness", a bechira born of arrogant first intuitions about the self. It is intrinsic to our psychic nature to get security from a "self evident" power of the self to pursue the happiness of our ignorance. The manifest unreality of this arrogant notion, necessarily leads to a distortion of Ikkar hagadol sh'akol talui bo. Rather than viewing Him as the Creator, one who infuses Creation with "melacha", a Unified Chochma apparent in all things, who redeems us from the political culture founded on ignorance-Mitzraim, we make a comfortable god of ignorance. In the culture of fantasy this "god" empowers us to pursue the happiness of ignorance. This is the basis of all avoda Zara.

It is to shake us from the culture of ignorance and its intrinsic attachment to Avoda Zara that Rambam starts his great work with ha-Mada and roots the notion of d'varim ketanim in the Ikkar hagadol shekol talui bo. Our concept of His unity must be founded on Malchut Shamayim, the intrusion of His Chochma into the political order habitually governed by notions of pursuit of ignorance and gods in our image.

There can only be a sense of d'varim ketanim in a culture that yearns for redemption from the enslaving notions of fantasy on the way to apprehending the Unified Chochma dealt with in d'varim gedolim. This culture is composed of Geulim, ones who experience is founded on the exhilarating joy of his unified Chochmaso as its fundamental basis.

ספר ראשון. אכלול בו כל המצוות שהן עיקר דת משה רבנו, וצריך אדם לידע אותן תחילת הכול--כגון ייחוד שמו ברוך הוא, ואיסור עבודה זרה. וקראתי שם ספר זה ספר המדע.

Only a culture founded on this Ikkar can have natural dibbur, a language of pursuing redemption passed down from biological father to son serving as the basis of divrei Torah. This language of redemption is expressed in the tzivui of U'limadtem otam et bneichem lidaber bam.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said...

ו] מאימתיי מתחיל אביו ללמדו תורה--משיתחיל לדבר, מלמדו "תורה ציווה לנו, משה" (דברים לג,ד) ופסוק ראשון מפרשת "שמע" (דברים ו,ד); ואחר כך מלמדו מעט מעט פסוקים פסוקים, עד שיהיה בן שש או בן שבע לפי בורייו, מוליכו אצל מלמד התינוקות.

moonlight1021 said...

Rabbi Sacks, you should put up now new posts on the blog. Since we don't learn by email anymore. Kol tuv.